Throughout my life, I've had the good fortune to have a group of very close and supportive female friends. They have been a real blessing. So when I saw an early screening of the new film, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I was deeply moved by the passionate way it evokes the power of female friendship.
Based on the novel of the same name by Lisa See, and directed by Wayne Wang (who also did The Joy Luck Club), the film chronicles the friendship of two girls in 19th-century China, and the bond between two of their descendants in present day Shanghai. But the story is universal.
It was produced by Wendi Deng Murdoch, who was born in China, went to business school at Yale, and apart from her now-clear talent for producing, also has an innate talent for nurturing friendships. And, indeed, as she told me, Snow Flower's examination of female friendship is what first drew her to the project.
Supportive women friends have been critical -- both in my professional and my personal life. Indeed, I've often talked of the need to build "fearlessness tribes," surrounding ourselves with women who will always be in our corner, always there for us, whether we succeed or fail. Your tribe is there to give you honest feedback, to support you when the going gets tough, to help salve your wounds... and, just as importantly, to help you celebrate the good times.
These are the friends with whom you can discuss anything and everything... although, with my tribe, at some point, the discussion usually veers to relationships. As our lives have gotten busier, we've had to find dedicated times to get together. Before I moved to New York, this led to a group of us taking regular hikes instead of meeting for lunch. When we hike, we observe a strict policy: everything that is said on the hike stays on the hike -- or "in the vault" as we call it. The other rule is that the one -- or ones -- in better shape talk on the way up the hill and the others on the way down.
There really is no substitute for unconditional female friendship.
Snow Flower, which opens July 14, explores both the amazing things women do for each other, and some of the horrible things that are done to them. There's a scene in the movie, for example, that shows the ancient practice of feet binding. And in the spirit of the movie's interplay between the 19th century and the present day, it was impossible to watch that scene and not think of the modern day equivalent -- one that we do to ourselves: the practice of wearing impossibly high heels in even the most unlikely circumstances.
Not long after I saw the movie, I was in Athens and attended the ceremony for the lighting of the torch for the Special Olympics. As I made my way up the steps of the Parthenon, I noticed that the woman in front of me was making the climb in five-inch heels. At the Parthenon! A few days later, I landed in London and there were women in six and seven-inch heels. At the airport! Several centuries before Snow Flower takes place, such a thing might have been punished in my home country by Zeus, who might have, say, made the wearer 12 feet tall. "You want to be tall?," Zeus would say, "fine, here you go!"
But these days, we need no godly punishment, because we inflict it on ourselves. I had my own come-to-Zeus moment three years ago. Wearing a beautiful but ridiculous pair of heels, I stepped in a subway grate and broke my ankle. Not only was I off heels for a long while, but I was on crutches and, after that, forced to wear the dreaded Broken Ankle Boot. It was a very Zeus-like outcome. My punishment for wanting to draw attention to my feet was... drawing attention to them while wearing a Frankenstein-worthy boot. My relationship with heels has since changed dramatically; I can't say that I've given them up entirely but I've become a passionate missionary for flats. And our Style pages are filled with elegant women in flats (hello, Carla Bruni!).
But I still have a ways to go. For example, I continue to hold the superstitious belief that if I am going to be on stage giving a speech, I need to do it in heels -- though, at least, they are no longer five inches tall.
And since seeing Snow Flower, I've been more conscious than ever of this modern version of foot-binding -- at airports, sporting events, the grocery store. What level of fathomless insecurity is it that makes us incapable of going out to get some eggs without six-inch heels?
This spring, after a formal event, I climbed into our car with a friend who immediately asked the driver for a band-aid for her ailing high-heeled foot. When he said he didn't have any she was shocked. "What?" she asked, "you don't have band-aids?" I thought to myself: when you need to carry a first aid kit for your feet, it's time to rethink your footwear.
An even bigger sign that we need a serious rethink: some women are starting to inject botox into their feet to counteract the damage being done by their shoes! There was even a report out of Los Angeles that women in high heels were being targeted by muggers because it was assumed -- correctly -- that women in high heels would not be able to run, or even hobble, away from the thief.
One clue to the recent increase in the height of high heels may be found in the recent decrease of our GDP. Some experts claim that as incomes get lower, heels get higher. "During the Great Depression in 1930s, the oil crisis in the 1970s, and the dotcom bust heels went higher," Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, told CNN. According to Semmelhack, hard times lead to "a greater need for escapism."
So perhaps the answer is to be found in female friendships. Friends don't let friends mangle their feet! In the same way that taking away your friends' car keys when they've had too much to drink is a sign of true friendship, so should making them fork over their Jimmy Choos in exchange for some flats -- or at least less dangerous heels that won't require band-aids, botox injections, or broken-ankle boots.
Inspired by Snow Flower, our new Women's section is running a video series featuring women talking about their female friendships. The first installment, which premiered last month, features Wendi Murdoch talking with her friend -- and the movie's co-producer -- Florence Sloan. Next we spotlighted Kathy Freston talking food and friendship with Katie Lee, and just last Friday, we heard from law professor and "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua in conversation with her friend, investment executive Anne Ackerley. This week we'll feature identical twins Suzette and Suzanne Malveaux, a law professor and CNN anchor, respectively.
And we want to hear from you. We would love to feature your friendship videos, blog posts (send both to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post them for you), comments, and tweets (use #snowflower). What do you value in your female friends? How did you find your tribe? What do you do to maintain your friendships? Do you have a best friend? What does she add to your life?
Let us know. And do yourself a favor: take your girlfriends to see Snow Flower.
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